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Songwriting with children …

November 4, 2017

In January 2017 I decided to shake things up a little with my singers who had been with me for a long time.  I decided to co-write a song with them.

I knew the task would be a big one so I decided that our 2017 Spring recital set-list and theme would primarily include the songs my singers had written.  I canceled our usual March performance to avoid having to teach my singers new songs and to give more time during class to write.

Here is what I learned with songwriting with young children …

1. Hands off!  To give your student the best experience involve them as much as possible.  I wanted my students to come away from this experience feeling accomplished.  To do this I had to keep my “hands off”.

It’s important during the process to give your student options and to follow through with their choices, to listen to them when they say they do, or more importantly, don’t like something.

As the more experienced musician you should suggest alternative ideas but ultimately let your young songwriter choose what they like!

2. Emphasize the “co” part of songwriting.  Many of my singers felt very nervous about writing a song and they instantly felt they had nothing to offer.   It’s important they understand you are going to guide and support them and let them know that the song reflects on you as much as them.

Tip – Don’t be fooled for one moment that this musical endeavor will be a 50/50 involvement.  As the teacher and the one with the most experience it’s far likely to be 80/20 😬

3. Choose a topic.  We discussed possible topics and then I gave my singers the task of choosing a topic to write and sing about.  I suggest it be something they know a lot about e.g family, social issues, something they love because I then asked my singers to …

4. Write about it.  Once a topic had been chosen I asked my singer to write about it.  As much as possible!  I wanted them to write both facts and feelings. I didn’t want anything rhyming or poetry-like, just writing.  Some of my singers responded with pages and pages and others just a few lines.

I used this information to select words and phrases that I knew would work well for lyrics.

5. Lyrics first.  It’s much easier to write a melody when the lyrics are already written.  Using my singer’s writings I was able to extract lines and with my students start creating lyrics and in most cases start rhyming sentences.

Tip – Get the lyrics competed asap!!  Spending too much time on lyrics is probably the most boring process for your musical student.

6. Song atmosphere. With lyrics completed it was time to start choosing an atmosphere for the song.  I had one singer who wanted to write about his annoying sisters so we wrote a funny oom-pah piano style tune.  Another student wanted to write an anti-bullying song so we kept the tune strong and powerful.

Let your student have a big say in their song style!

7. Chords next.  Very few of my students play an instrument and those who do are not yet at a point where they can select chords and put them together to make listenable transitions.  After discussing the mood of the song (happy/sad/funny etc.) I would play them short examples of how the tune could sound.

Where they were able to contribute was in choosing which chord structure they liked best.  For example, I would play a C, E and they would choose if they wanted it followed by a G or A.

I then put these chords into Garageband and each week I would slowly build on these chords to create a …

8. Song structure & Backing track e.g. Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus.

Here is where the writing process started to become very time-consuming for me personally.  Very.  During the week in between lessons, I would work on each singers tune in GarageBand.  I would add drums, synth pads and give the song structure.  Each week when my singer returned to class I would have added another element.

In some cases, my singers chose synth pads or certain sounds but a LOT of this was done behind the scenes.  It was very rewarding to see my singer’s big smiley face when I played them the next version of their song.

9. Melody last.  The best and easiest part and also the part where my singers had the most say.  I consider the melody the light at the end of the tunnel.  We now had a finished backing track where the singer could try out their lyrics and make them fit into a melody they liked.

We would go back and forth on different melody ideas and they would pick which one they like best.  We recorded demo takes at each lesson so they could take it home, listen and make changes.

Final tip …

Keep it fun.  Always! and enjoy watching your young musician, singer, songwriter create something personal that they will have all their life.


Songwriting with my daughter!



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